Credit: Steve Bryant

Hell is a blast. Beats living. You get to garden, the drugs are free, and if the Harrowing’s planned for anytime soon, no one’s informed Judas Iscariot or Pontius Pilate, the double-quadruple-damned linchpins to Houston playwright Brendan Bourque-Sheil’s show, which makes its Chicago debut here with Death and Pretzels under director Madison Smith. Minus an understandable touch of guilt at having brought about the death of Christ, this Judas (Jake Baker) and this Pilate (Nick Strauss) are set. Judas broods and boozes, Pilate tends to a fern, and in general their infinite term of confinement to darkness pretty much wiles itself away.

But according to a prophecy written on Hebrew tablets and placed under Heaven’s reception desk, which naturally is staffed by Saint Peter (Collin Quinn Rice, spiffy in a pointed mitre), dejected teenage Maggie (Tia Pinson) is the Book of Revelation’s woman clothed with the sun who’s slated to give birth to a new savior on the day of rapture. Judas has to save Maggie first, though; this lonely girl, for whom life has been an utter disaster (think suicidal pets), is literally just about to blow her brains out on a beach. Whoops. Awful day for Armageddon, lovely day for an intervention.

Rice can be raucously funny, and Taylor Toms as Joan, Maggie’s mysterious helper, shows considerable talent. The cast as a whole probably could not have done better work with this premise, but with a premise this warped that isn’t saying much. Great incidental music by Matt Orenstein, incidentally.   v